Darcy’s big break into theatre’s ‘creative experience’

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Year 12 student at Yass High School, Darcy O’Sullivan… “It was very eye-opening.”

YEAR 12 student at Yass High School, Darcy O’Sullivan, has been busy helping wherever she can with any productions of musicals or performances in Yass, but this month she’s had her big break. 

O’Sullivan, 17, is one of a cohort of 10 lucky senior school students accepted into Canberra Theatre Centre’s “creative experience” program.

It’s more structured than “work experience”, as director of the Canberra Theatre Centre, Alex Budd, explains. He offers the students a chance to spend a week learning, developing, observing and participating in the centre in various areas of operation.

Budd knows all about this. While still studying, he fronted up to the Canberra Theatre and announced, “I want you to give me a job”.

“They threw me down into the lighting area and got me to sort out all the colour gels for the lights, then perhaps admiring my tenacity, they gave me a job the next week,” he says.

O’Sullivan might well end up doing something just like that, since, with a broad range of subjects in Year 12, including biology and legal studies, she’s been keeping her options open – “just in case I change my mind”.

Still, after she finishes school, she’d like to do something to do with live performances – “I’m really passionate about that”, she says. 

She’s been to Canberra Theatre to see shows many times and heard about the creative experience program through a friend. She was halfway to Canberra from Yass when she heard the theatre had shut down because of COVID-19 and the program was cancelled.

The highlight of the week, which ran from Monday to Friday in the first week of May, was hearing people behind the scenes at the Canberra Theatre talking about what it’s like to work there and how they run their particular area. 

“Then we worked on a pitch, as if we were running our own show,” she says.

“It was very intense.”

Work experience students in theatre auditorium.

After that, the whole group got to see Brisbane company shake & stir’s production of “Animal Farm”. She’d never studied the George Orwell novel at school and says she found it “quite shocking, but something I would definitely go to see again”.

Her favourite thing about the week was hearing professionals talk about directing and stage management.

“It was very eye-opening and they were people who told us how they got into it and what it’s really like,” she says.

O’Sullivan hasn’t yet thought about auditioning for courses but once she’s got through year 12, she plans to get involved in shows and work her way up.

That’s exactly how Budd got started. An elite music student, his eyes were dazzled by the lighting box and he got into the industry by sheer chutzpah, starting out at the Canberra Theatre then graduating to the Sydney Dance Company and Opera Australia.

“The theatre is still an industry where people who show some determination and skills can break in,” he says.

“If you want to be an actor, of course it’s probably a good idea to get into a course, but… the important thing is to have a passion, the ability to make connections and ability to work hard.”

But craft-based creatives have a lot of doors open to them, he knows, as there are skills, like scenic painting and costume-making, that can only be handed down from generation to generation.

“Theatre is an unusual game,” he says. 

“There’s an enormous amount of backstage work before everything is pulled together on the opening night.

“It requires passion and energy.”

Budd went around the room among the students to ask what their interests were and found some wanted to work backstage, some in sound and others in lighting.

“It’s one of the best parts of my job, talking to young people about their interests in the arts industry,” he says.

“I told them, you have to be flexible.”

Canberra Theatre Centre’s second creative experience program will run from July 26-30, Year 10-12 students should apply here

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Helen Musa
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